The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter describing the new political demographics in postindustrial societies, its newly dug trenches and the multidimensional crisis-revolution we are facing.
Hipsters, hackers & hippies: for short I refer to these people as the “triple-H population”. Their cultural and economic DNA is going to play a crucial role in bringing about a metamodern society. They have worldviews, interests and skills that are notably different from any of the classes of industrial society. So let’s go through each of the subgroups, see what they produce, and why they are in fact becoming a new basis of power in society.
A hacker is not just a person who illegally gains access to computer systems; the hackers I refer to, self-identified (like that of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg) or not (like many of those who nonetheless participate in programing events known as “hackathons”), produce digital solutions and software that reduce the complexity of society and make it manageable. Of course, not all IT-workers, computer engineers and programmers can be considered to be hackers in this sense. Only the ones who combine their IT and programming skills with an intimate, embodied knowledge of digital culture (and other sensitivities towards our day and age) can be considered as such. They combine software development with cultural capital and social capital, i.e. with a sensitive knowledge of the culture and age we live in, with a rich understanding of its symbols. You’ll find many of these people in creative industries ranging from smaller app startups to some of the more visionary departments at Google and other major actors, the independent, “indie-”, game development scene and social innovation projects. They invent solutions that bypass many of the old, capitalist ways of distributing services and information: digitalizing and gamifying education (and making it more module based), finding novel applications of technologies to solve social problems (like making software for social movements to organize, or to improve the democratic deliberation in larger organizations) and democratizing medical equipment by creating mobile applications that measure everything from brain waves and heart rates to the environmental impact of our purchases, or working to create more transparent and shared data bases available to governments and publics, or working to create mobile solutions that help payments and pricing in developing economies or help sharing videos of abuses or facilitating other forms of whistleblowing. Datamining and AI play increasingly important parts in this development. The increasing saturation of computer games of everyday life offer many platforms for such endeavors. So this group is growing in importance because it offers us the software solutions that can only come from great creativity combined with cultural capital and digital know-how.
Hipsters are not just people with a particular style of fashion, or the pretentious college kids who show off their supposedly good taste in music and art. The hipsters I refer to produce the many symbols that help us to orientate ourselves in, make sense of, and find meaning in the global, digital age. Here you find a wide array of artists, designers, thinkers, social entrepreneurs, writers and bloggers. They develop the ideas of posthumanism, transhumanism, complexity and network researchers, participatory forms of politics and social movements, critique of wage labor (and the often irrational nature of work in the economy), ecological and social resilience, personal development, organizational development, the new gender and sexual relations, our forms of family and community life, the interactions of different cultures – and much more. They also, notably, embody these new thoughts by creating music, fashion, movies, books and games that embody these new values and ideas – and by their own taste in fashion, art and lifestyle. Whereas the hackers rely upon a combination of digital skills and cultural capital, the hipsters rely upon a greater amount of cultural capital only – combined with their personal networks, i.e. on social capital. People who adopt and successfully wield and display these symbols gain different kinds of competitive advantages: companies turn greater revenues, individual persons appear more sensitive and sophisticated, and cities or municipalities can brand themselves as attractive, dynamic and creative hubs. The hipsters are becoming more powerful because it is becoming increasingly difficult for most of us to grasp and navigate the society of the present age – and they offer us the tools for doing so.
The hippies, then. I concede that this is a silly use of terms, as the word “hippie” was originally derived from the word “hipster”. But since the 1950s and 60s, the two words have taken on quite different connotations, so I think we can safely separate them. The hippies are the people who produce new lifestyles, habits and practices that make life in postindustrial society happier, healthier and, perhaps, more enchanted. The hippies here are not quite the same as the hippies of old: the starry-eyed New Agers who looked to astrology, crystals, transpersonal psychologies and gurus, but rather people with highly developed skills in meditation, contemplation, bodily practices, psychedelics, diets and physical training, profound forms of intimate communication and sexuality and simple life wisdoms that apply to our day and age. You will find more rational and research based approaches to psychedelics, communities for self-development and eco-village living, science-driven meditation and stress release practices, coaches of all kinds, and elaborate forms of practices for achieving higher mental states and spiritual experiences. An important hub for all this is the Burning Man festival community of “burners” that are springing up around the world – originally held in the Nevada desert, but now with numerous offshoots. At this festival you will find a large host of MDMA-induced (a.k.a. ecstasy) art projects; large, impressive and “meaningless” structures that are built as temporary art projects for no other reason than that it is fun and interesting. So the hippies are becoming a force to reckon with because they provide social and personal technologies for maintaining health, happiness, community and a sense of enchantment to an increasingly strange and alienating world. Sometimes, this takes the form of vegan diets, sustainable lifestyles, organic farming for self-sufficiency, and relative withdrawals from modern life. But the activism always reinserts itself into the mainstream; it always comes back with a will to engage with others – not least via social media. The sort of hippies we are talking about here are generally highly educated and rely upon knowledge of medicine, physiology and psychology. This, too, can be seen as a form of cultural capital. Hippies without such cultural sensitivity fall behind and remain the old kind of hippies.
”they form a complex but united front against the capitalist society in which they take part, a subtle revolution of cultural capital”
What Unites the triple-H
Somewhat strange bed-fellows, these three. What, then, unites the triple-H population? One thing is that all three groups share an alternative relationship to work and the market: they are all driven by what psychologists of work call intrinsic motivation and self-realization, rather than extrinsic motivation, such as monetary rewards, consumption and security. This means that they work by another social and economic logic than any of the old groups in industrial society. Of course, this is an outflow of postmaterialist and highly individualized societies, in which significant parts of the population have the luxury to think much less about how to pay the bills and more about how they can change the world. Bangladesh is not full of triple-H; California is. Because of the idiosyncratic nature of their many endeavors, the triple-H folks find it hard to “fit in” within the classical, hierarchical and meritocratic organizations. Many of them will have rebelled against such structures and try to find ways to work outside and beyond them – outside academia, outside major corporations and even medium-sized companies and beside public bureaucracies. No doubt, organizations that find ways to attract and keep these agents and harness their talents will gain great competitive advantages in the future.
The second – and most significant – thing that unites them is the fact that they all rely more upon cultural capital (and to some extent social capital) and less upon economic capital. As such, they form a complex but united front against the capitalist society in which they take part, a subtle revolution of cultural capital. What you see is that, near the centers of the world economy, you find more and more people whose lives are no longer governed by the logic of economic capital. And some of these people can still be rich. Rich hipsters? How does that work? Because cultural capital is becoming more powerful than economic (as a means of organizing and coordinating people’s actions and behaviors), the cultural capital can be traded for money or other valuable resources at a favorable rate. Hence, bit by bit, cultural capital is beginning to dominate economic capital in the new digital, postindustrial age. You can read about that here.
Which brings us to the third thing that unites the triple-H: their common vested interest as a postindustrial class. In this sense, these people are the real “creative class”. When the American sociologist Richard Florida tried to describe the creative class he relied upon classical occupational statistics, but that is, needless to say, a very clumsy tool. If you want to spot this new class and their interests, you must first understand them qualitatively, and then analyze their socio-economic DNA, like we are doing now.
”…the triple-H population and the precariat are both classes produced by postindustrial, digital society and as such, they form an entirely different form of class interest”
The Precariat and the Creative Class
For these people, the wage labor treadmill (and conventional work life) hinders the lives that they want to live, rather than being a source of security and empowerment. Each aspiring triple-H person of course has relatively low chances of achieving financial success. She must win the trust and attention of other people in order to be able to perform her “real” work, her labor of love, fulltime. So she must make many attempts, which often leaves her back at square one, where she must again tweak her ideas and modes of work.
Hence, there is a revolving door between “the creative class”, which the triple-H population largely constitutes, and the precariat – people in economically and socially precarious situations, at the fringes or outside of the conventional labor market. Oftentimes, it is up to the family or the state to support this growing reserve army of “failed” triple-H folks. And once these people must give up their intrinsic motivation to stand in line for menial work, reporting in to the rigid control structures for the unemployed, or adapt to the demands of not-so-postmaterialist supporting family members, they become miserable and often dysfunctional. For them, there is no clear line between fun and work. Even reading a novel or watching a TV series or playing a computer game is part and parcel of their work to change the world. If their higher aspirations fail, life seems to offer them very little and they are prone to falling into escapism and depression – which decreases their chances of holding on to a job on the conventional labor marker and thus increases the risk of entering the growing ranks of the precariat.
For this reason, the triple-H population generally supports ideas of basic income: this would insulate them against falling into precarious situations and emancipate them in the face of demeaning bureaucratic control. This is why the triple-H population and the precariat are both classes produced by postindustrial, digital society and as such, they form an entirely different form of class interest, a line drawn between them and the classes of old: worker, middle class and the rich. What the triple-H people often don’t understand, however, is that most people do not function like them and do indeed still find meaning and security in the conventional work life – even the ones who don’t like their jobs find structure and context to their lives and earn a much valued paycheck. The demands for basic income are hence often premature and naive, not least because they overlook the developmental psychology of the population. The triple-H people are children of a new society, and their needs and their solutions are, in the last instance, at odds with the modern, capitalist system. But the group is growing and so is their relative power within the global capitalist economy.
”you never quite know if you are the bullshitter or the hero, or if you are being sold utter bullshit.”
The Maladies of the Triple-H Population
The triple-H populations suffer from a number of things that aren’t an issue to most people. These are:
- Uncertainty of levels of expectations,
- empty networking.
“Uncertainty of expectations” has to do with the extreme differences of responses that can be produced by their work. If you work hard and put your stuff out there almost anything can happen: you can become a star, get a solid international upper middle class career, or you can be completely ignored for whatever reason. There can be fame and glory and a major breakthrough around any next corner, or there can be a lifetime of frustrations and precarious and embarrassing situations. Will your app help save a million lives or will you have wasted ten years of your life? Will people scorn you or adore you, or both? Should you continue, follow your dreams, change plans and pivot, or maybe go back to the security and humility of a conventional life and career? This is the revolving door between the creative class and the precariat; there can be great distance between expectations, strivings, hopes and realities in these non-conventional lifestyles. At least since the classical sociologist Émile Durkheim’s work at the turn of the last century, it has been known that expectations minus realities is how you calculate a major factor of ill mental health and human misery (what Durkheim famously called anomie).
“Bullshit” means that there needs to be a lot of big talk when you deal with bigger and more abstract issues and matters. A new organizational paradigm? A revolution in how we apply datamining to new problems? A major innovation or a technical detail? A profound global movement or a club for self-admiration? Because there is so much understanding and context needed to all these projects, they may be difficult to explain, and sometimes you may need to find ways to package and sell them. In plain English, you need to wrestle the doubts and accusations that it’s all just bullshit. And, needless to say, the majority of the work of the triple-H population is undeniably so. The reason that it’s so valuable to society is just that some of it isn’t bullshit and even a small percentage of genuine innovations of software, culture or lifestyle can have a huge impact. Still, you never quite know if you are the bullshitter or the hero, or if you are being sold utter bullshit.
“Empty networking” is a wasteful activity that most triple-H people know all too well: those many coffees and lunches had, Skype conferences held and evenings attended that never really led anywhere. Because the triple-H people all rely upon large networks of people to collaborate with in different projects, they must always be open to new contacts. This means curiously inviting new people, surveying the skills and assets and building personal report, exploring new ways to work with new people. The people they meet are friendly, like-minded and always interesting. But the productive relationships that are mutually reinforcing and become stronger over time are rare: because it’s so complex; so many expectations and assumptions and so much shared knowledge that must be in place.
So these are some of the sufferings of the triple-H population, some of their weaknesses. The parts of the world economy that are most sensitive towards these weaknesses will also become the most competitive ones as they can successfully harness the creative powers of the triple-H. Advanced science is also a key ingredient to postindustrial growth, but it doesn’t necessarily create local growth without a vibrant community of creatives and people who can invent applications of ground research – the research results can be picked up by any agents around the world, at least in theory.
”It’s not that they are better than normal folks, but they are the ones to invent all the things to save the world.”
Why is it important to Know about the Triple-H Population?
Because they are going to play a dominant role in society, outcompete the traditional bourgeoisie and eventually invent most of the solutions to save the world, that’s why!
In our new society of digital culture and software, being in touch with the symbols and tempo of contemporary society – having large amounts of “cultural capital” that is – puts one at a much greater advantage than before. Whereas money, in most developed countries, is scattered relatively evenly across the representatives of the old classes of industrial society and the new creative ones, cultural capital is certainly not. The triple-H folks are usually more artsy, creative, well connected, socially intelligent, emotionally developed, idealistic, digitalized, diversified and educated – and thus more likely to become rising stars of the new society.
But it’s also important to know about the triple-H people because the societies that most effectively adapt to the needs of this group will come out on top in the global economy.
There is no denying the advantages of having a thriving triple-H population. For instance, Malmö, a city in southern Sweden, recently reinvented itself, going from an industrial economy where jobs disappeared, to being a “progressive” and “hip” city attracting young creative souls from all over the country and abroad. It’s the fastest growing major city in Sweden (not only from overseas immigration, but also from internal immigration as well) and many of the country’s new IT-startups, social innovators and artists have made the city their home. Malmö has become a center of Sweden’s burgeoning video game industry and it has become known for its vibrant and edgy cultural scene and even managed to successfully compete with its big brother Stockholm. Sweden’s traditional industrial center Gothenburg now seems to be lagging behind Malmö in terms of innovation, culture and attracting young people. If we look at the global scene we’ll find an identical picture: San Francisco has become the center of innovation and growth in postindustrial USA, not Detroit, Berlin is the new hip place to attract young creatives in Germany, not the old industrial heartland of the Ruhr and previously periphery cities on the global stage, like Krakow, Dublin, Vancouver and Reykjavik, have successfully reinvented themselves as cultural and innovative hotspots, while former industrial centers like Bradford, Cleveland and Lille haven’t been as fortunate – yet. It has now become evident that a successful transition to, not just a well-developed service economy, but a hi-tech one based on creativity, culture and innovation determines whether a society will prosper in the global, digitalized economy or not. But what many still fail to realize is that it’s critical to attract the triple-H people.
Nurturing the demands of hackers, hipsters and hippies seems to be a recipe for financial success in the global economy. And Silicon Valley has showed us that the world’s most successful businesses tend to include all three. Would the success of Apple, Facebook, Google and many of the other major tech companies have been possible without the rebel hackers who quit their day jobs and rejected bourgeois values in favor of sunny California and its liberal hippie culture? Or the many artistically gifted hipsters who’ve flocked around the existing creative industries in the region? Not very likely. Why didn’t Detroit or Cleveland become the center of the world’s new hi-tech industries? These places were the home of Americas leading technological industries after all, supposedly well-suited for the next industrial revolution, so why didn’t it appear here? Or why didn’t they at least catch up with the developments elsewhere? Well, the industrial setting and associated values, traditions and established ways of conducting business simply didn’t resonate with the progressive creatives.
Now, favoring the interests of the new creative classes is never an easy issue, or an ethically and socially unproblematic one. There is a considerable, and to some extent justified, resistance from other, more conventional segments of society. Malmö’s success of attracting many new IT startups and invigorating its art scene has caused bitter resentment among some of the city’s original inhabitants. This has grown to a level where an actual “anti-hipster movement” has emerged, visible by the many stickers in downtown Malmö telling “hipster pigs” to leave or “go home to Småland” (a rural province in Sweden from where many young people have emigrated). A similar tendency can be found in Berlin, targeting Swabians, who have become synonymous with the recent influx of people from Germany’s wealthy southern provinces.
It’s no wonder that the gentrification of old working-class neighborhoods causes a great deal of indignation as rents and prices go up and gradually replace the original residents who cannot afford to live in the homes they’ve lived in their entire lives. But to a considerable degree it’s not just about money, many of these hip creatives are just as poor as those who already live there after all, it’s also that many feel confused about the changes happening to their old neighborhoods, and, perhaps more importantly, a vague sense of inferiority and cultural alienation towards these newcomers. Their old favorite pubs and grocery stores suddenly change to accommodate the tastes of the new residents; new people with strange looks start to appear in the streets and cultural events to which they feel alienated, and often not welcome, start to take up a larger proportion of the city’s nightlife. Values, customs and products many of the original, and often more traditional-minded, inhabitants feel estranged from and even resentful towards begins to dominate city life as the triple-H people move in. The thing is that it’s not just resentment towards a life-style the original inhabitants can’t afford, as is often the case when a neighborhood is gentrified by wealthier newcomers, it’s not only economic capital that causes feelings of inferiority, no, the animosity that can be felt in cities such as Malmö and Berlin stems from the circumstance that the new people have higher amounts of cultural capital. It’s a vague and often unconscious feeling of inadequacy, rarely articulated as cultural inferiority, but rather as annoyance with the newcomers’ perceived pretentiousness, self-importance and showing off, that causes what I would claim constitutes a new kind of class hate.
So there it is again: the struggle between the old society and the new. Despite all the cuddliness, “correct” political opinions and good intentions of the often very sensitive and socially aware hackers, hipsters and hippies they don’t avoid causing bitter felt class conflicts. And even if class struggle is not what it used to be there is still a political game. Development of societies has always produced winners and losers. It has always been a grim business. A new political reality is emerging at the heart of the most progressive countries in the world, a silent revolution pertaining to the information age. So in a sense, what we are seeing today is not really a wave of nationalism rising across Europe and North America, or a socialist utopia lost to neoliberalism. We are witnessing the rise of the digitalized, globalized, transnational, postindustrial society – and its discontents. The nationalist resurgence is only that: the outdated, the outgunned, the outmaneuvered. That does not make the confusion and suffering of the losing side any less real.
Still, favoring the triple-H is of paramount importance, and not only in terms of economic growth. These people are on average more progressive, more socially concerned and more aware of the dire environmental crises of the world. So if they are provided with the infrastructure and opportunities to prosper they can become a valuable asset for the overall level of societal progress. And even if they often come off as arrogant and awfully politically correct to the traditional workers they live among, they are generally more engaged in their local community and willing to show greater amounts of sensitiveness and understanding towards their co-citizens than the bourgeois middle class people who have followed them into the old working-class neighborhoods. They also tend to have a global mindset (which makes the co-existence with ethnic minorities from traditional cultures surprisingly friction-free despite the considerable differences in values and levels of cultural capital) and have more transnational perspectives on things. As such they work to transform their countries (or cities or regions) into nodes within a larger network where information is free, production of cultural goods is central, and creativity is paramount. They seek to live in progressive and cultural vibrant pockets of transnational networks where they can partake in innovative IT-companies, public-private partnerships and different forms of social entrepreneurship and research programs, often working professionally with things such as open information, climate change and organizational democratization. And the locations with the highest concentrations of these things thus achieve greater centrality in the new emerging transnational networks – with considerable advantages on the global stage as a result.
In short, the progressive and postmaterialist values of the triple-H people generally make them more concerned with the transition to an ecologically and socially sustainable society than making a buck to buy nice things. It’s not that they are better than normal folks, but they are the ones to invent all the things to save the world. Because of that we should see to it that they get the optimal conditions to do so.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.